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Before beginning my illustrious career as a church secretary, I bounced around between substitute teaching gigs.  Those gigs, which lasted from 2009-2010, inspired this collection of anecdotes.

In 2007 I attended Binghamton University where I underwent training to become a high school English teacher, the dream I had held deep in my heart since about my junior year of high school.  When I graduated in 2008, I expected (silly me) to teach high school English soon thereafter.  Not once did I consider during that preparatory time that I might do anything else.  In other words, I did not foresee that my post-graduate school life and career would include conversations like the following

Me: “My name is Miss M.”

Kindergarten student: “Can’t we call you something easier?”
Me: “I don’t know how that could be any more simple.”

Needless to say, sometimes the most memorable moments are the least anticipated, and it is in the spirit of the unexpected that I review with enthusiasm the best moments of my time as a substitute teacher.  Hopefully you will see, as I have in the rearview mirror of personal reflection, that unexpected journeys always afford much learning, laughter, and of course, story-telling.

Subbing is humbling

 There is a fine line that separates what is humbling from what is humiliating, and it is a line I have walked in the last year.  Whenever you are asked to operate outside your area of strength, expertise or even basic know-how, such a request usually comes with a hefty slice of humble pie.  I have had several helpings this year.

As an English-as-a-Second-Language substitute, I spent most of the day reaching far back in my memory for whatever was left of my Spanish education in an effort to communicate with my temporary students.  When I thankfully recalled “Siete te” (you sit) I began to say it with gusto hoping to successfully plant them all in chairs.  I said it three times in frustration to a puzzled boy who finally told me “I am from Kyrgyzstan.”  Suddenly I was the one who needed the chair.

The following dialogue occurred while reading a book to a second grade boy where the main character fell ill and took advantage of his mother’s pity:

Me: “Are you familiar with the phrase ‘milking it’?”

Second grader: “I’m allergic to milk!”

I once dropped my cell phone under a desk while students were taking a test, went after it and was physically stuck for about fifteen seconds.  I emerged to stifled laughter that I quickly validated and encouraged saying I would laugh were I in their shoes, and then sat down with the remains of my dignity.

Substitute teaching has taught me the importance of dignity maintained in the midst of less than dignified moments, which I try to remember as I explain the stain on my dress pants to the clerk at the drycleaners as the channeled creative energies of a marker-wielding first-grader.

 

Subbing is educational

I learned a great many things while I was substitute teaching.  I learned that even if a room had been rid of asbestos and housed an industrialized fan, you still should not eat your lunch there.  I learned that the strategy I had employed to avoid learning names does not work with a kindergarten student who fails to answer when addressed as “Pink shirt with kittens”.  I learned that a good teacher should be able to teach anything as I struggled to explain compound fractions to a fourth grader.  I learned the navigation of unfamiliar buildings, the skillful interpretation of sub plans written in the worst handwriting and that five-year-olds do not, even a little bit, grasp the competitive aspect of dodge ball.

I also learned about the American teenager.  To combat my own boredom, I made it a practice to engage in conversation anyone who would talk to me.  I asked them what they liked or disliked about school, what their weekend plans were, college plans, or movies they enjoyed.  When I spied the conspicuous white ear buds and familiar white chord, I asked what music was currently playing and why they liked it.  Some students were not receptive, and I learned to leave them alone.  But there were others who talked endlessly and passionately about sports, movies, film, books, friends, high school or other things.  So when I hear adults talk about the apathy of today’s teenager, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve been talking to the same kids.  When I hear teachers talk about how hard it is to get kids interested in anything, I can’t help but wonder how much time we teachers spend learning about what does captivate the interest of the students we are so desperately trying to engage.

Subbing is unexpectedly good

 To bring it back around to the beginning, my year of subbing was not something I looked forward to when I sat in education classes imagining kids giving me apples and thanking me for impacting their lives while somewhere in the distance a clarinet plays the underscore of Mr. Holland’s Opus.  I thought I would walk off the graduation platform into my perfect classroom.  But that was not how things went, and as I look back on the last year, I do not think I would have chosen that perfect classroom and clarinet music over what I have now in real experiences with real kids.

As much as I despised the 5:30am phone call, it helped me learn how to pull myself out of bed.  As much as I felt discouraged an inept to teach science to 6th graders, it challenged me to go outside my comfort zone of knowledge and gave me a taste of what struggling students face on a regular basis when teachers ask them to do the same.  As much as I disliked an inconsistent income, it forced me to budget money better than I did before.  As much as I felt uncomfortable in charge of a class of kindergarteners, it put me in contact with the class pet guinea pig, which I absolutely enjoyed petting.

In the end, I learned that unexpected things bring unexpected joy when I lean into them rather than resist them.  This is a tough lesson for a planner like myself and those like me, but it’s worth it.

My little friend Cinnamon the guinea pig would heartily agree.

I made this up for my students while teaching a college writing class at Binghamton University.  It’s still relevant today provided that there have been no earth-shattering MLA changes since 2010.

Using Sources in Your Papers

Paraphrase

  • This is when you use your own words to communicate someone else’s ideas that you found in a small quote.
  • You need an in-text citation after you do this, otherwise you’ll be accused of plagiarism and your academic life will be over.

Summary

  • This is when you take a large group of ideas and summarize the general push of an ENTIRE article or book, perhaps a position of a particular person rather than a specific quote.
  • You also need an in-text citation after you do this otherwise you’ll be accused of plagiarism and will be forever haunted in your dreams by the green aliens from Toy Story, which is not as pleasant as it sounds.

Direct Quotes

  • This is when you write someone else’s words into your essay exactly how those words appear in the source.
  • By now, if you don’t understand the need for in-text citations, you should be denied all student privileges, like abstaining from Sodexho meat or keeping a goldfish in your dorm room.

 The Ins and Outs of In-Text Citation Bliss

  • If you are citing from a work with a known author, like Mark Twain, then you must put his last name in parentheses with a page number and the period OUTSIDE the citation.  Don’t put it on the inside; nobody likes that.  It’ll look something like this, but not bolded: (Twain 70).
  • If you are citing from a work without a known author, which is usually the case with staff writers and associated press articles, then you need to truncate the article title in the parentheses.  “Truncate” is a snobby word for “shorten”.  Use it to appear smarter than you really are, it works for me.  It’ll look something like this, with quotes: (“Why Big Words Make You Seem Smarter” 70).
  • Sometimes, you might want to list the author’s name first and then introduce your quote or paraphrase, which looks like this: “Rachel Malikow, in her brilliant hand-out, says the following…” In a case like this, you would just put the page number in parentheses after your quote or paraphrase.  This is acceptable.  If you are going to use sources with no page numbers, like websites, then I would like you to use parenthetical citations only because that makes the most sense.  Think about it, you agree, don’t you?
  • Picture this: you’re reading happily along and then see a quote in a source that you want to use, but your source is actually quoting ANOTHER source.  You become terrified and vomit everywhere.  But all you need to do is this (qtd. in Malikow 70). Now take some Pepto-Bismol and feel better.
  • Because many of you insist upon using websites despite the fact that few are actually scholarly, you might as well know how to avoid plagiarism and keep your goldfish rights.  There are three basic rules:
  1. Refer to the source using the first words that appear on your works cited page whether that’s the author name, the article name, or the website name.
  2. You don’t need page numbers here because there aren’t any.  Why?  Because there are no pages.  Scrolling down a lot does not mean you’ve entered page 2.  We don’t play like that.
  3. You do not need to include the URL in the in-text citation.  Nobody likes that.

The Ten Commandments of Citation

(In this section we have switched to Roman Numerals for effect)

I. THOU SHALT NOT HAVE ORPHANED DIRECT QUOTES.

Don’t begin or end paragraphs with direct quotes, always sandwich them between your own words to ensure proper discussion of those quotes.  This makes everyone happy, as do sandwiches.

II. THOU SHALT NOT TELL FALSEHOODS ON THY WORKS CITED PAGE

If you put sources in your works cited page, then that means you are using those sources in your paper.  I should be able to rip your works cited page off the rest of your paper and compare it side-by-side with your essay and see all the pretty little parenthetical citations that match the works listed in the works cited page.  If you list a source on your works cited page but don’t use it in your paper, then you might as well draw pictures of bunny rabbits on your works cited page, because those are just as relevant.

III. THOU SHALT NOT PUT A PERIOD WITHIN THE PARENTHESES OF A CITATION

Just don’t do it.

IV. THOU SHALT CITE WORKS BY MULTIPLE AUTHORS CORRECTLY

If you have 2-3 authors, use both names in the parenthetical citation, like (Malikow, Einstein, and Smith 34).

If you have more than 3 authors, use the first author’s name and then say “et al”, which is Latin for “we’re less important because our names don’t come first on the article”. It looks like this[1] (Malikow et al. 34).

V. THOU SHALT NOT PUT A COMMA BETWEEN THE AUTHOR’S NAME AND THE PAGE NUMBER.

Just don’t do it.  It is statistically proven that students who do this receive one less birthday gift a year for each misplaced comma through the course of their lifetime[2].

VI. THOU SHALT ALWAYS CITE STATISTICS

If there is not a little parenthesis with someone’s name and potentially a number after your statistic, I will assume you made it up, which is frowned upon by the administration[3].

VII. THOU SHALT NOT COUNT THY WORKS CITED PAGE IN THE PAGE REQUIREMENT OF THY PAPER

Basically, your short papers are 3-4 pages and the works cited page is #5.  Your long paper is 8-10 pages and the works cited page is #10 or #11.

VIII. THOU SHALT FORMAT THY WORKS CITED PAGE CORRECTLY

  1. Center “Works Cited” at the top of the page.
  2. Alphabetize your sources.
  3. Indent the second (and subsequent lines) of the citation.
  4. Maintain double spacing.

IX. THOU SHALT CONSULT THY MLA MANUAL

You paid $45.15 for a used version of How to Write Anything or $60.20 for a new version.  Use it.

X. THOU SHALT FOLLOW ALL OF THESE COMMANDMENTS THAT YOU MIGHT HAVE A LONG AND HAPPY ACADEMIC LIFE.

Yes, you shall.


[1] This is not true

[2] Neither is this

[3] This is true.


Congratulations, young freshman lass, you have arrived at _______ University. You have survived years of awkward adolescent boys, pimples on their faces, sweat under the nose bar of their glasses, those youth group boys who find beating each other senseless with giant foam fingers at basketball games a less frightening experience than having a conversation with you. You’re finished, you’ve graduated, and perhaps in your mind, you have set foot in the Promised Land of dating: the Christian University.

Now, before you romp off to search for milk and honey, please take a moment and listen to an older, more experienced voice, the voice of an alumnus of Eastern University, the voice of an alumnus who left Eastern with something more precious than a princess cut diamond engagement ring: wisdom. I would like to impart some of that to you, and perhaps save you a few tears as you journey. I would like to introduce you to the six guys you’ll meet at a Christian University.

Guy #1: The Gaming Hermit

You could sit behind this young man in freshman orientation, and every subsequent class after that and only learn his name if you happen to pay attention during the roll call. He might as well not even have a name, because he won’t be introducing himself to you or any other female on campus because day after day, month after month, he will retire to his residence hall where he will play any number of video games late into the night with his hall mates. You will recognize this young man because he will have a particularly glossed-over expression, indicative of a long night of gaming. Since your school is no doubt a dry campus, we have come to recognize this condition as VGHO, or Video Game Hangover. This young man and his compatriots will travel in flocks to and from class, the library, and the dining hall, making it impossible to distinguish one from the other. Eventually you will stop noticing that they attend at all, and if you happen to sit next to one of them at graduation, you may see him playing Tetris on his cell phone during the ceremony.

Guy #2: The Lord of the Harem*

He’s good-looking, he’s outgoing, he’s charming, he’s sensitive, he’s…too good to be true. This guy attracts girls like a bra clearance sale, and that’s the problem. He is constantly traveling in a harem of adoring young fans. He may alternate the ladies in the harem from time to time, choosing new members to follow him around. He’s good-natured, which makes it difficult to despise him. Don’t worry, you will in time. He may from time to time choose one girl from his harem and spend extra time with her, but then seeing how this upsets the rest of the posse, he will insist that they are “just friends” and return to relating to the girls communally, often choosing a new girl just to show he is serious about being platonic. If you find yourself in one of these harems, don’t worry, you’ll be traded out in time. This guy, in his inability to choose a favorite girl, has decided to keep all his options open for as long as he can. Does that make you angry? Don’t worry, in the end, this guy graduates with nothing but a gaggle of faithful pen pals. *alternate names include: The Platonic Pimp, Mr. Indecisive

Guy #3: Mr. Girlfriend-From-Home

This will be the most disappointing of the models. This guy is everything you want, sweet, sensitive, Godly, motivated, friendly, and taken. He has a girlfriend from home, and they’re serious. Now, there are certain degrees of “serious”. If you have fallen into the unfortunate trap of liking Mr. Girlfriend-From-Home, pay attention to the following: are there pictures of him and his hussy from home in his dorm? Are there notes from her tacked to his bulletin board? Does he appear to take phone calls from her regularly? If any of these markings are present, the relationship is most likely at a high degree of “seriousness”. Take caution and do not have high hopes. If the relationship survives its first year of separation, abandon hope completely, this couple will most likely make it. You might even be recruited to host this girlfriend when she visits from out of town. Be the bigger person, invite her to stay, make her feel welcome. You could get a wedding invitation out of it. Bring a date.

Guy #4: Mr. God-Card

He stands in the front row in chapel, he never misses a chapel, and he’s been known to leave comments like “praying for ya, bro” on the Facebook walls of his friends. Naturally, girls are drawn to him, and he enjoys this. Like the Lord of the Harem (see above), he can also gather quite a loyal following of hopeful girls. But this guy’s game is completely different, he’s not afraid of losing his options, he’s afraid of losing…his soul. That’s right, unfortunately, this guy has “kissed dating goodbye”. He has committed himself to courtship, and is determined to “not date”, that he might be free to meet and pursue “the one”. You may ask: but how will he pursue “the one” if he is determined to never date? Well, he hasn’t quite worked out the details yet. But he couldn’t be more confident in his course. When your friendship with him grows intimate enough to beg the question of “where is this going?” this guy, with all the sincerity in the world, will look deep into your eyes and say “I’m sorry, God told me to just stay friends with you.” You will blink, and wonder why God chose to tell him everything and leave you in the dark. Don’t worry, you’ve not been left in the dark, you have been the victim of Mr. God-Card. This model should elicit more pity than all the other ones, because in his sincere search to find God’s will, he could very well miss it because he is too afraid to take any sort of risk. In this refusal to risk anything and live as safely as he can, he eliminates the need in his life for faith altogether.

Guy#5: The Stalker

I know what you’re thinking, shouldn’t I be afraid? No, The Stalker will do you no harm. He will just irritate you. Warning: Freshman orientation week is a perfect breeding ground for this model. He will learn your name, your residence hall, your favorite color, and he will remember it, creepily, for all four years of college. This guy will talk to you constantly about nothing at all, perpetually ask you why you guys don’t hang out more, and will not take “no” for an answer. You will have to develop an arsenal of excuses to ward off The Stalker, my suggestion is to group together with other girlfriends and develop a rescue strategy when you see that someone is trapped in conversation with this individual. He will try to impress you with things that are utterly unimpressive, and when he sees that he can no longer elicit your admiration, he will go for the next most accessible emotion: your pity. He will complain about anything and everything, try to recruit you to help him with homework or any kind of thing he has to do, just so long as he can spend time with you. But again, he is harmless, albeit annoying. He won’t be the first annoying person you meet in college, and he certainly won’t the last. Get the better of the situation by learning how to deal with such individuals with grace, a skill you will use long after your college years are over.

Guy#6: Mr. Right

Despite the familiar connotation, “Mr. Right” will not be your boyfriend. He will probably not be your husband. “Mr. Right”, as far as this alumnus is concerned, is the guy with whom you can laugh, talk, study, and just goof around. Nothing romantic really ever develops, but you’re glad he’s in your life, because even if it’s never anything more than a friendship, believe me, it’s exactly what you need for now. If you leave your four years at Eastern with a boyfriend, that’s nice, like a bonus. But if you leave having friends, real, solid, encouraging friends, you’re truly rich. “Mr. Right” might not be the guy you marry, but he’s the guy who God uses to shape you into the person he wants you to be. God’s plan might be for you to be a wife someday, but His plan is definitely that you be a woman first, and that will give you plenty to do while you wait for God to grow the guys in your life into the men he wants them to be. It doesn’t get much more “right” than that.

Buckle your seatbelt…

Thanks for the listening ear. I hope you enjoyed your whirlwind tour through the male community of ________University, and that you feel more confident to enter the jungle of male-female relationships. Keep your wits about you; God knows you’ll need them.

*I thought it best to add an epilogue to this piece to keep things honest. Three years after writing this piece, I met and fell head over heels in love with a man who, because God loves irony, currently attends a Christian college. He is Guy #7.*

“I hate that, it’s no fun.”  I can’t even tell you how much my skin crawls when I hear that.  If you insist on being negative and immature, at least have enough sense to use predicate adjectives correctly and say “it’s not fun.”  Yet, my disturbance does not end there.  Beneath the hideous grammar, there is an attitude of entitlement that I find particularly troubling, and I see it popping up more and more in today’s young adult.

At the risk of sounding like a cantankerous geriatric matriarch, I dare mutter to myself “kids these days, they have no idea of how to be miserable…”

Now, because I’ve already crossed the cantankerous geriatric matriarch bridge, I will proceed on to tell the story of how I learned how to be truly happy, how I learned to appreciate life, and how I learned to make anything fun.  I learned this by…being miserable.

It was my freshman year at a college I despised.  It was overwhelmingly large, cold, and unfriendly.  When I say cold, I am not simply referring to the social atmosphere either.  Located at a particularly high elevation in upstate New York, “cold” is an understatement for the type of weather I experienced during that especially cold winter.  I had three classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  The History of Modern India met in a bright room in a small building at the top of a hill.  The class ran through lunch time, and it took my most of the semester to get over the uncomfortable irony of eating a sandwich while learning about the starvation of thousands of Indians during the mid-twentieth century.  Needless to say that my own basic human need won out and soon I was munching away with less of a nagging guilt.

As soon as the professor bid us farewell for the day, I would gather up my belongings and make the trek to my next class, which met in a building with a sizeable auditorium, located close to a half-mile from my India class.  The half-mile would have been a somewhat pleasant reprieve from sitting if it was not a half-mile of steep decline down an often icy asphalt sidewalk.  I was obliged to tread carefully, lest I slip and my backpack become a sled, propelling me down the hill and into the road at a frightening speed.  Forensic Chemistry awaited me at my journey’s end.  At first, I was enthusiastic about Forensic Chemistry, as I had always been a fan of the forensic investigations I saw on television.  I realized that a season of CSI Miami was, in fact, an insufficient prerequisite for Forensic Chemistry, and I settled into my seat in that crowded auditorium, cracked my textbook, and studied.  Soon, I found a few friends, who were just as disenchanted as I with the class, and we began to amuse ourselves by comparing driver’s licenses from our respective states and drawing pictures of our dearly departed high school mascots.  With the girl next to me, I began to illustrate daily installments of “Mr. Bunny Goes to Syracuse University” where a small cartoon rabbit discovered the ups and downs of college life, a way in which I explored my freshman angst.

During this period of my life, I was also seeking to change aspects of my physicality.  I was weighing in at 195 pounds, and was beginning to see that my future shopping days would be spent in the plus size department of the local Target if I didn’t make some drastic changes.  My nightly ritual, which featured the consumption of a candy bar and a Code Red Mountain Dew, would have to be left in the dust.  I banished carbohydrates from my life, as well as all unnatural sweeteners.  I was happy, for the most part with my new nightly ritual, which now included berries in place of candy bars,

However, I did face my share of temptation, in the form of a extra large corn muffin over which I would drool ever Tuesday and Thursday afternoon at 1:00pm when I passed the snack kiosk located outside the auditorium where I was subjected to an hour and a half of Forensic Chemisty class with the professor who was daily conducting a love affair with the sound of his own voice.  I would sit there, day after day, hearing the sultry sweet talking corn muffin in my mind and doing my best to drown out its temptations by crunching louder on the obligatory baby carrots I had purchased in a desperate attempt to quell my desires.

Soon, the class would be over, and I was forced to face the most difficult moment of my day.  My last class of day, Statistics for the Liberal Arts, was located in the same building as my first class of the day, The History of Modern India, which meant that I had to retrace my steps back up the blasted hill I had just come down two hours before.  Not only was the half-mile now an incline, but as an added bonus, I was no longer traveling in the direction of the wind.  This of course meant, in the miserable winter months, that I would arrive at Statistics with an almost thoroughly frozen face.  I remember one day in particular, as I moved my feet with all the enthusiasm of one at a funeral march, the snow falling in big, fat flakes so fast that I could scarcely make out the ground in front of my feet, the corn muffin in my mind taunting me with its promise of temporary fulfillment, it was this day that I felt tears welling up in my eyes.  One tear did manage to escape, and as I felt it crystallize on my cheek, I realized that I needed to get a hold of myself before I suffered frost bite of the tear ducks.

Just as that tear crystallized on my miserable, chubby cheek, that moment froze in my memory.  It was the moment when I chose to keep walking when I felt like quitting.  It was the moment when I ate the carrots instead of the corn muffin.  It was the moment when I chose to make friends and make the best of my situation rather than feel sorry for myself.  It was the moment of choice that we all face no matter who we are, when what we want and what we have are so radically different that we want to stop walking and indulge in self-pity rather than keep moving, walking, and working in the hope of finding something better.

The thing is; I needed that moment.  I needed it because it taught me to choose joy.  I needed it because it taught me to choose tenacity.  I needed to be cold, fat and miserable in January so that I could appreciate when I was warm, thinner and joyful in May.  The last time I walked that half-mile, it was in the sunshine of Spring, which always comes after winter, you just have to wait it out.

 

I’ve had some pretty winning ideas in my time. There were the light-blocking curtains that kept the sun from casting death rays on mine and Ashley’s token sleep-in Saturdays back in the old apartment. There was my brilliant plan to arrange my books by genre rather than author on my shelves, and of course the two-for-one tonic of ginger ale and orange juice to provide both carbonation and vitamin C during cold and flu season. Sometimes good ideas come in great revelations (alphabetized books) and sometimes they are the result of trial and error (it took a while to find the right curtains). Sometimes an idea can sound exceedingly promising and then descend into something entirely different. It is in the spirit of such descents that I recount the events of the last hour.

The citizens of Broome County and the surroundings areas, differences aside, can all agree that the arrival of spring to our formerly frozen tundra is cause for celebration. Determined to make the most of the sunshine and reacquaint myself with the great outdoors, I decided to go search for my rollerblades. Since moving to the city of Binghamton last year, I have become a happy resident in a neighborhood with sidewalks and street corners, something I had not had in a long time. Enamored with the quaint streets of the West Side, I decided to take the ‘blades out for a spin for the first time since the lion of winter melted into the sweet and mild lamb of springtime.

Having considered myself a season roller blader from my happy afternoons at the rail trail last summer, I thought nothing of the endeavor. I soon realized a slab of blacktop stretching for two miles does not necessarily equal two miles of thin sidewalk complete with unevenly spread concrete, cars protruding from driveways, dog walkers and telephone polls that seemed to close in as I barreled erratically down Matthews Street. As I narrowed my eyes to the path ahead, I realized I was now faced with either embarking on a downhill journey toward Leroy or having to make a right-hand turn at the stop sign. I winced, trying to lean back in an effort to slow down and prolong the impossible choice. Crossing one wheeled foot over the other and trying not to close my eyes, I managed the turn and breathed a sigh of relief.

That was when I saw the little girl on the bike.

I love children. So plowing her over was not an option. This was broad daylight. I leaned back on the treads and felt myself slowing down, but not quite slow enough. I also realized I was going to need to manage another turn. Suddenly it felt as though the world was closing in and all of my choices were being taken away, at least all the ones I would have preferred. I grasped my iPod and clicked pause.
“Can I pass you?” I asked, but no sooner had the word left my mouth that the little girl stopped riding and went over to the side to allow me my wish. Barely muttering a thank-you, I maneuvered the next turn in one fluid moment and suddenly felt ten feet tall. But my pride was short lived as I now realized that I had turn on to a slightly declining street and was gathering momentum. A purple car was sticking out of the driveway a good twenty feet away…now ten…now five…
Breathless and wide-eyed, I chose the most manicured-looking lawn to the right and threw myself on to it. Relief mixed with an immediate itch from the prickly grass came over me in great wave, and I inched back on to my feet, carefully navigating the rest of the way to the road’s end, making a mental catalogue of all the people I would not want driving by at this very moment to see me rolling along without even the illusion of steadiness.

It was smooth sailing after that for a while. I looked at the picturesque scene before me houses, the elderly gentleman hosing his lawn, the people who apparently thought garbage was picked up on Saturdays, the too-young girls prowling the streets in halter tops. Maybe not all of it was picturesque…but either way, I was enjoying my afternoon adventure that had in all reality unfolded with no real bodily injury. I began playing a little game in my head “Is that a pine cone or dog poop? Pine cone or poop? Pine cone or…

The next thing I knew, the very concrete beneath my feet was coming closer and closer as I felt my legs flail into the air behind me. I lifted my arm in an effort to save my iPod from any damage just in time to meet the ground with the rest of my body. “How can this be?” Thought I, “I am but a few strides from home…”

That of course meant that the people outside who all saw this all but graceful descent to the earth were of course my most immediate neighbors, all of which stopped to inquire whether or not I was all right.

My long-held instinct to at least be the first to laugh at my own failures had already kicked in and I rose from the sidewalk in hysterics. “I think that’s all, folks,” I announced to upper Crary “I’m going home now.” And with that, I rolled up the street and left to my abode, now having replaced the “Pine Cone vs Poop” game with the “Exactly How Severely Am I Bleeding?” game.
Life is a series of good ideas and bad ones with the occasional notion that morphs before your very eyes. But despite a scratch and what appears to be a quickly swelling calf bruise, I am not ready to declare my afternoon activity to be a misadventure. Time, hydrogen peroxide and laughter has a way of healing most wounds, leaving me with perspective and wisdom which I hope will not fade in time.
For instance, I now have a valuable checklist by which I will evaluate potential roller blading locations. Is this an evenly paved street? Is there an incline? Is there a soft bed of grass on to which I can throw myself when things get rough? What is the probability of small biking girls? There are things to take into consideration.

I am always thankful for the opportunity to exercise my discerning mental muscles, and would encourage all my reader to do the same in moments of success or failure and the murky places where it could go either way. There is, of course, always something to learn no matter what the circumstance.
Rollerblading, like skydiving, pastry baking, and woodworking, is an activity that is location-sensitive. It is with that that I declare my return to the rail trail for all further blading endeavors. West Side, I’ll see you on a jog.

The gym means many things to many people.  It’s a physical escape, a neutralizer of guilt, a social meeting place and from my perspective, a treasure trove of candid observations.  As somewhat of a “resident” candid observer, I dare say any gym attendee can recognize these moments.

I go to the gym for one reason.  I really like the feeling I get when I’m leaving.  That is pretty much why I go, so I can leave.  While I’m there, the absolute last thing I want to do is anything that places that goal of leaving farther away from me. That being said, I don’t really want to talk to anyone while I’m at the gym, which I don’t think that makes me cruel and unfriendly.  In fact, I find my refusal to distract you (my unwelcome gym greeter) as a great service.  Not only that, but have you been on an abductor/adductor machine?  Have you been on a bench press? Is that really when you want to answer the ever-generic “what’s new?”  I think not.  But I will say this, my irritation at hearing “what’s new” is nothing compared to the horror of hearing the words “Hey Miss Malikow!”  In the end, gym etiquette as I understand it to be requires a polite nod and nothing more.  The gym is a special place where rudeness is not earmarked by ignoring those you know, but rather keeping them from their goal and mine: to leave.

Speaking of unwelcome distractions, why is Paula Deen on the gym television sets?  And why is she dipping something in gravy while I’m on an elliptical? I consider the gym to be a gravy-free zone before it is a judgment-free zone (a subtle nod to Planet Fitness).

This is what I have to say about locker rooms.  They’re called “locker” rooms, not “please, stranger, disrobe before me” rooms.  There are stalls with doors and locks.  They’re my best friends, as are those who use them to change.

As for gym attire, I feel confident in saying polo shirts should be avoided.  That is, unless that back door leads to a golf course I’ve failed to notice all this time.  The same goes for bathing suit tops at gyms where there are no pools.  Stop disabling our imaginations by wearing clothes that leave nothing left for it to do.  Wife-beaters, can you hear me?  Trade the unsightly tops for t-shirts of appropriate looseness.  Resolve to do so now and listen close for the sigh of relief from us all.  There it is.

Before you start thinking that I do nothing but catalogue the failures of others at the gym, please allow me to tell you a few of my own.  I’ll be the first to cleanse my conscience by way of public confession and tell you that sometimes I walk away from a treadmill, return with a paper towel and the bottle of cleaner and think “Well, these treadmills could not look more alike, which sweat is mine?”  Or perhaps I should have asked: “At what angle was I watching Paula Deen deep fry that turkey?”  Neither works, which of course means I have no choice but to take a shot in the dark.  Sometimes I’ll wipe down a few for good measure.  Speaking of treadmills, I sincerely hope someone else has almost tripped while changing the tune on their iPod.  Let’s just say I let the tracks run while I do.

All in all, I like the gym, or at the very least the way it looks in the taillights of my car as I depart.

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